Jan 16, 2013, 12:20 PM EST
Every day until the season starts we’ll explore an intriguing storyline for the upcoming year.
Last April, Florida’s gain was Toronto’s pain.
When the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on Apr. 5, they snapped the NHL’s longest postseason drought — 12 years — and passed that depressing mantle onto the Leafs.
It’s been seven years since the Leafs last made the playoffs. The last time they did it, in 2003-04, the roster included the likes of Mats Sundin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Ron Francis, Ed Belfour and Brian Leetch.
All five of those guys are now in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
So yeah, long time.
For one of the league’s most storied franchises — one recently fired GM Brian Burke called the “crown jewel” and “Vatican” of the NHL — that stretch of futility is unacceptable.
Which brings us to the question at hand:
Will the futility end this season?
If the early parts of training camp were any indication, there’s not a lot of optimism.
Toronto began the campaign in the most dysfunctional way imaginable — by firing Burke, the club’s outspoken architect.
His dismissal went down almost exactly as many figured it would, with a hailstorm of controversy, sound bites and unanswered questions as to why owners decided to turf the GM eight days prior to the start of a condensed regular season.
That hasn’t been the only distraction in Leaf land, either.
The goaltending situation — the bane of Burke’s four-year existence — is as convoluted as ever. Talks of an impending Roberto Luongo acquisition continue to swirl and, should that trade never come to fruition, there’s debate over which in-house candidate would be No. 1.
Former No. 1 James Reimer should be the starter by default, but he hasn’t played a competitive game since March 2011. He’s also looked shaky in camp and could be surpassed by Ben Scrivens, who has been playing frequently in the AHL and, according to CBC’s Glen Healy, looks like a confident goalie.
“Just looking at Scrivens’s body language, he seems to have a lot of swagger,” said Healy. “The biggest thing for goaltenders is that six inches between your ears — that belief that you can accomplish what you want to accomplish. That you can do it. That you’ve got confidence.
“His emergence into [the NHL] game could not be better timed, with the lockout ending and a lot of other players not playing.”
As for other personnel, the Leafs didn’t upgrade much from a roster that finished 13th in the Eastern Conference a year ago.
James van Riemsdyk came aboard (at the expense of losing Luke Schenn) and checking center Jay McClement was signed in free agency. Morgan Rielly, the fifth overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, could challenge for a roster spot, but is only 18 years old.
Which means Toronto might be seeking improvement from within.
To that end, the Leafs should have some optimism. One of the biggest disappointments from last year was Nikolai Kulemin, who saw his goal production decrease from 30 in 2010-11 to seven in 2011-12.
The 30-year-old Russian was active during the lockout, playing with Magnitogorsk of the KHL, racking up 38 points in 36 games.
But really, improvement has to come across the board. The only way the Leafs are going to make the playoffs is if everything about the team gets better, something head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledges.
“I’ve left the message with the players in departing last year that we were not competitive enough in all three zones,” Carlyle explained. “We have to be prepared to go — if you want to call it war in some situations, so be it — we want to be able to compete night in, night out, for every puck, every faceoff.
“That’s the message that’s been delivered. That’s the type of style we’re expected to play.”
For all the PHT Pressing Questions, click here.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:58 PM EST
“I thought he was real good.”
Mar 7, 2014, 12:50 PM EST
Hosting the Isles at the Saddledome.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:07 PM EST
Click to see which teams could be most impacted.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:47 AM EST
In related news, Philly leads the NHL in penalty minutes.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:33 AM EST
But Jeff Vinik couldn’t sway him.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
It’s not looking good in DC.
Mar 7, 2014, 11:17 AM EST
Matt Moulson set to make his Minnesota debut.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:45 AM EST
It’s been a rough few days for Mike Gillis.
Mar 7, 2014, 9:07 AM EST
The Capitals have waited a long time for him.
Mar 7, 2014, 8:15 AM EST
That and the rest of the links to start your day.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:34 AM EST
Ugly start for Vancouver vs. Dallas.
Mar 7, 2014, 1:23 AM EST
Worth staying up late for East Coast hockey fans.
Mar 7, 2014, 12:41 AM EST
He did it with style, too.
Mar 6, 2014, 11:32 PM EST
They might want to stay off of Twitter.
Mar 6, 2014, 10:50 PM EST
He should provide commentary to as many Vancouver games as possible.
Mar 6, 2014, 10:38 PM EST
Jhonas Enroth is making the most of his opportunity, to say the least.
Mar 6, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
This one looks painful.
Mar 6, 2014, 10:06 PM EST
Boston shut them out 3-0 on Thursday.
Mar 6, 2014, 9:56 PM EST
Plenty of talent on the ice for this late one.
Mar 6, 2014, 9:48 PM EST
It’s unclear how severe the injury is.
- Report: Kuznetsov terminated KHL deal, headed to Washington 12
- Canucks’ Bieksa: ‘If this isn’t rock bottom, I don’t know what is’ 29
- Luongo has Twitter fun at Canucks’ expense 30
- Sabres spoil Callahan’s Lightning debut, Stamkos’ return 6
- Dealing with the Devils: NHL reverses Kovalchuk punishment 47
- Playoff bubble watch — Rangers edition 14
- Video: Emotional day for Martin St. Louis ends in OT loss for Rangers 27
- Video: Caps, Flyers engage in another line brawl 53
- PHT’s 2014 Trade Deadline Tracker 28
- Winners and losers of the 2014 trade deadline 48
- Canucks trade Luongo to Panthers (93)
- BLOCKBUSTER: Lightning trade St. Louis to Rangers for Callahan (82)
- Sabres send Miller, Ott to Blues for package including Halak, Stewart (74)
- Kings make splash, acquire Gaborik from Columbus (72)
- Report: Canucks want center, top prospect and first-rounder for Kesler (68)